BOSTON — Just when it appeared the locker room finally splintered off, the Lakers reattached the seams.
Nick Young griped he could have avoided a one-game suspension had his teammates helped him out during a scuffle in the Lakers’ loss on Wednesday in Phoenix. The Lakers responded by holding an air-it-out meeting in which they vowed they’d give him the support he needs. But no one served as poster childs more for that incident than Kendall Marshall and Ryan Kelly.
Marshall had stood at the top of the key with his hands attached to his hips as Young swung his arms toward Phoenix’s Alex Lens, Marcus Morris and Goran Dragic. Kelly looked more involved in separating the fray, but his deer-in-headlights look showed how the Lakers’ rookie hardly looked equipped for standing up for a teammate while still avoiding an ejection. And with the Lakers’ tailspin of injuries and non-existent defense persisting, the passivity from Marshall and Kelly personified how the team’s sudden resignation with the losing.
But as the Lakers showed in their 107-104 victory Friday against the Boston Celtics at T.D. Garden, both Marshall and Kelly absorbed the criticism within the last 48 hours and then channeled it into good use.
Kelly posted a career-high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting and canned two late-game free throws that sealed the win. Marshall posted 19 points on 7-of–11 shooting and 14 assists. He also made a key three-pointer that put the Lakers up, 105-103, with 1:09 remaining. Finally, the Lakers (15-25) snapped their six-game losing streak and at least temporarily halted the negativity.
“Very proud of them,” said Lakers forward Pau Gasol after posting 24 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. “Very happy at the way they were able to step up and play well for us, because that’s what we need. They’re going to take away certain things and they’re going to be open to take certain shots, and they need to knock them down and shoot them with confidence.”
It appeared Marshall and Kelly were aware what fueled such outbursts.
Said Marshall: “It got to the point where we have to put our foot down We’d like to have Nick with us, but he lit a fire in us and he got us going.”
Said Kelly: I think [Young’s suspension] did a little bit. But I would hope our losses would light a pretty big fire too. Sometimes you have to take a stand and find a way to get a win.”
Quite ironic since Young’s involvement in the Boston game entailed sitting watching it from his hotel room. It could’ve marked a huge absence considering Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni previously called Young “probably the best player on our team right now” after averaging 16.6 points on 42.3 percent shooting and showing improved defensive effort. His numbers rank first in the NBA among reserves who have come off the bench for at least 20 games.
Yet, the Lakers too often remained mostly passive while allowing Young to carry the workload amid a depleted backcourt. Without Young, both Marshall and Kelly took the mantle.
“You saw it tonight huh?,” D’Antoni said with a smirk. “They were all over it. We made a mistake with not helping Nick out, no doubt about it. It wasn’t a mistake because they didn’t care or whatever. It happened. They didn’t react quite right. But there was no problem in the room.”
Instead, the Lakers created problems on the court.
The 6’11” Kelly threw down a dunk after spending a whole offseason rehabbing his surgically repaired right foot.
“I haven’t gotten off the dribble one foot dunk in a while,” Kelly said. “After with all my foot stuff, that felt good. I had a lot of energy and my legs were in it.”
Kelly showed energy elsewhere. Kelly made a 3-pointer that cut the Celtics’ lead to 95-92 with 6:37 remaining. Lakers guard Jodie Meeks gave Kelly the ball late in the shot clock that ultimately wound up with a violation as the Lakers trailed by 105-104 with 24 seconds remaining. But Kelly responded on the next possession by grabbing a defensive rebound.
“You have to move on the next play. I could’ve gotten the ball quicker there at the end of the shot clock and didn’t manage it well,” Kelly said. “But the play was over. We needed to get a stop and rebound.”
Kelly has never lacked for confidence, even offering an incredulous “no” when a reporter wondered if doubt ever crept in during his first year in the NBA. He also still took offense to former Laker and Time Warner Cable SportsNet analyst Robert Horry questioning Kelly’s passivity during Young’s altercation.
“He doesn’t know me,” Kelly said. “I never met him before. He never spoke to any of my teammates about me. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s not right to call somebody a bad teammate. He was speaking in the moment.”
Moments later, Kelly then conceded that Horry wasn’t calling him a bad teammate as much as singling him out for his on-court play.
“Maybe we should’ve been more involved, maybe not. It’s a touchy situation,” Kelly said. “The more you get involved, the more likely it escalates as well. I should’ve gotten in between when I was there. I tried to help him up but all of a sudden it blew up out of control. It happens sometimes and it was something you can learn from.”
It appeared Kelly and Marshall learned those lessons.
The Lakers wouldn’t have had a lead if not for Marshall’s dagger three-pointer. D’Antoni remarked Marshall rarely passes up a shot, joking “he shot 40 times” in his 4-of-16 clip Wednesday against Phoenix perhaps as revenge for the Suns waiving trading him last year to Washington. But Marshall overcame his unorthodox shooting stroke by making it a strength. Two days after questioning Young’s on-court judgement, Marshall then praised his teammates.
“It felt good, but Wes [Johnson] made a great pass,” Marshall said. “Pau [Gasol], he was drawing a double team every time when he was scoring, and we did a great job of movement and I just happened to be the beneficiary at that time.”
Who knows if Kelly and Marshall will replicate such teamwork moving forward. Who knows if the Lakers will climb out of the Western Conference. But in a 48-hour span where it appeared the Lakers took another nosedive, both Kelly and Marshall ensured that wouldn’t happen.
“It starts with little steps and we took a little step today,” said D’Antoni. “So, let’s see if we can just keep going.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org